In Malawi, maize is the most important food crop, followed by cassava, sweetpotato, and sorghum. However, sweetpotato is currently one of the most widely grown crops and, as a major food source, is increasingly contributing to the food basket in Malawi. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security estimates sweetpotato production at 2.7 million tons (MT) in 2009, a 500% increase over its estimates 12 years ago. This growth represents some diversification away from really solely on maize as their dominant food staple. Sweetpotato is also a source of cash and employment for many farmers.
Malawians are desperately poor, with 74% of the population living below the international poverty line of US $1.25 per day. Income is Mk 44 ($0.29) per person per day with 22.4% barely surviving. The levels of malnutrition remain high: 43.2% of children under five years are stunted, 59% have vitamin A deficiency (VAD), and 22% are underweight. The infant mortality rate and morbidity remain high, with 104 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2004/05 and 1,984 deaths per 100,000 births in 2004, respectively. There is also high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, currently estimated at 12%.
In 2009, the International Potato Center (CIP) launched the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI) with the goal of enhancing the lives of 10 million African families, particularly by reducing child malnutrition and improving smallholder incomes through the effective production and expanded use of sweetpotato. Irish Aid became a founding partner in the SPHI through the present project, “Rooting out Hunger in Malawi with Nutritious Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato.” This 4.5-year, multi-partner effort seeks to improve vitamin A and energy intake for at least 115,000 households with young children (the group most vulnerable to VAD) using orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) and an innovative approach to scaling up planting material dissemination. The project also seeks to improve income-generating opportunities for some producers of OFSP and increase their average sweetpotato yields by 50%. The SPHI and this project are rooted in regional and national policies and programs aimed at sustainably improving the lives of people in Malawi and the region in line with the Millennium Development Goals.